Montana Sen. Jon Tester announced last week that laid-off workers from Weyerhaeuser Columbia Falls Cedar Palace would also be eligible for extended benefits under the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act.
Under the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act, workers get their unemployment benefits extended for two years as long as they’re in retraining, whereas normal unemployment lasts just six months. That allows them to go back to college or other trade studies and still have an income.
The program also allows for relocation benefits if a person has to move to find another job and it also offers a wage subsidy for up to two years if an employee has to take a lower paying job.
Initially, it didn’t look like Cedar Palace workers, who were skilled workers that ran the administrative side of the company, would qualify for the assistance. Most of the workers at the Cedar Palace lost their jobs in December after Weyerhaeuser shut the building down about a year after it merged with Plum Creek.
According to the Kalispell Job Service, they are currently working with about 25 workers — mostly mill workers — through TAA. Weyerhaeuser also closed the plywood and sawmill in Columbia Falls as well. All told, about 200 employees lost their jobs. But Laura Gardner of the Job Service said only about 30 names have been provided by the company that worked at the Cedar Palace. She said anyone who lost their job at the Cedar Palace should contact the Job Service if they’re interested in the TAA program. Even if someone retired early, they could still be eligible for benefits.
“Montanans made it loud and clear at my roundtable in July that this assistance ensures hard working Montanans who lose their jobs due to unfair trade practices get back to work,” Tester said. “I am thrilled to see the Department of Labor is willing to work with us to ensure folks from the Cedar Palace facility will have access to these services as well. Thank you to the Kalispell Job Service and Flathead Valley Community College for working together to help workers across the region get retrained and back to work.”
Whether unfair trade was actually the culprit may be in doubt. At the time of the layoffs, Weyerhaeuser said it was closing the two mills in Columbia Falls because of a short log supply. But prior to the merger, Plum Creek sold off hundreds of thousands of acres of its own timberlands, most of it through conservation deals that benefited the company and the public, as the acreage is now owned by the state, the federal government or the Nature Conservancy, which helped facilitate many deals over the past 15 years.
The Job Service main number is 758-6200.